THE SUNLESS SEA — Chapter 9

[Well, one thing a writer does is just keep on plowing through the story. This is now well off the revision of an old manuscript and into new territory. I’m posting these chapters for the sake of momentum as much as anything. This is the only surf scene I’m planning to write. Writing surf scenes is sort of like writing sex scenes, hard to pull off with panache. In fact, in the publishing world there is the Bad Sex Award for the worst sex scenes of the year, some of them penned by famous writers.]

Chapters 1 – 5
Chapter 6
Chapter7
Chapter 8

Chapter 9


Elroy called out to the bald steward at the beach tent, “Botak, I’ll ride the red stand-up.” He said to his Oscar, “I’ll paddle out. You go ahead on the boat.”

Botak hauled out the SUP down to the water’s edge as Celeste, Quigg, Rani, Oscar and Andy clambered into the waiting runabout, which had sponge-covered racks down the middle for the boards. Quigg stuffed his boogie board by the gunnels. Elroy stood on the beach by the big red SUP board, squinting out to the line-up with a hand shading his eyes, looking like lord and master of all he surveyed.

The runabout’s driver eased the outboards into gear. On the beach Botak squatted on his haunches to attach the SUP’s leash to Elroy’s ankle. Andy watched on in mild disbelief. No matter how pampered you were, you put on your own leash strap, for crying on loud. Rani was watching as well, her expression unreadable.

The runabout dropped Celeste and Quigg off at kiddie reef, Quigg rolling off the side with a big splash that flicked water at Rani. She jerked away, scowling.

“Rani, why that pretty face so upside down?” Oscar teased with a grin, talking loud over the outboards’ roar. “You going to get all wet anyway.”

She ignored him. Oscar caught Andy’s eyes and raised his eyebrows, rolling his eyes a little.

As the boat zippered along, a school of baitfish jumped in silvery curtains. Birds whirled and dove with noisy squawks. The ocean here was alive, the reef flashing underneath as a living carpet. How had the place escaped the fish bombers? At the channel, the runabout slowed down to idle. They watched a six-foot blue bird rise from the depths, feathering in the steady offshore breeze, and spin down the reef, a liquid gem of sapphire and champagne fizz.

“Oo-la-la,” Oscar said, and added to Andy. “Today she is nice and will let you play. Bigger, she gets serious.”

“What’s the reef like?” Andy asked.

“Flat, except at the end bowl there. Shallow. You can try your luck and ride long or kick out to be safe.”

Andy paddled out slow from the channel to get a feel for the break, while the runabout dropped Oscar and Rani on the lineup and high-tailed it out of there before the next set. The water was warm, but with just enough deep ocean chill to feel crisp against the sun. The best waves broke from up top and peeled down the reef, but there were also wide swingers, a peak with short wall. Perfect to reacquaint himself with the art of riding an alaia. Andy was out of shape, the narrow board squiggly under him.

Outside, Oscar snagged a set wave, gouging his turns with focused intent. Rani took the next one, styling with impressive grace with a smile wide as wings. Andy hooted as she flew past.

A wide set came rolling in. Andy paddled for the first wave, but he was slow, the alaia lagged, and he didn’t get on it. He’d gotten lazy, he realized, getting old with bigger boards. He scolded himself with a reminder on how the first time he went to the North Shore he’d learned real quick to paddle hard and then harder again.

The next wave, he stroked on overdrive and accelerated the board onto the face. The instant gravity took hold, he jumped to his feet, and for a couple seconds he was angling neat across the curling face, the bottom clear as crystal, before the alaia suddenly turned into a squirrely toothpick and dumped him.

He came up grinning. How much better could this be, a private peak to reacquaint himself with the temperamental surfboard? Gorgeous surroundings, too, a lively sea, complete with a turtle that broke the channel’s surface and then dove again. To the north waves spun into another reef-pass, the kind of set-up bored grommets at school doodled in their notebooks. The island with it lush jungle rose like an emerald vision of a paradise, with untouched shores.

Last night, the corvette’s thundering bombardment: had that been just a dream of the lotus eater?

But Andy could see the marines still on guard along the jungle’s edge. They were for real.

And hadn’t he learned that there was no paradise that did not come with its sly snake in the garden?

He was suddenly uneasy, as if a cloud had curtained the light, and a sunless deep had chilled the sea. Then he shrugged it off. Fuck that, he was going to enjoy himself, take pleasure in this simple hour.

Elroy had reached the channel, paddling his stand-up board with easy confident strokes that chewed up the distance. His tattoos rippled smoothly on his chiseled muscles. He ignored Andy, his gaze set on the outer peak. But then as a single wave swung wide again, Elroy spun the board around and stroked deep, gliding onto the wave before Andy even had a chance. Like he was the alpha dog who had to piss on every lamppost, letting Andy know that he was the guest in his territory.

Fair enough. Andy was.

The hang of the alaia quickly came back to him. As he waited for the wide ones, he watched Elroy on the point hog the best set waves. He rode masterfully, Andy had to admit, with swooping cutbacks and three-sixty spins. Oscar seemed quite happy to take seconds. Several times Rani was in position for her turn, but Elroy, who’d already ridden a wave, had gotten back out to in time to take the wave from her, ignoring her as if she wasn’t there. Once she waved an angry frustrated fist at him, and Oscar paddled over to say something to her.

She still got plenty of waves, though, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was Andy’s slow stew. He’d never liked bullies.

Finally he paddled up to the top and waited, sitting shallow and to the inside of Elroy. He whistled and squirted water with his fist, looked at parrot fish gliding underneath him. Just hanging, you know. But he was keeping his eyes open for the next solid set. The neap tide was draining to low, so the second wave held the best shape, after the first had pushed more water onto the reef.

The set came. Elroy paddled over the first wave calling out over his shoulder to Andy, “Go, bra, nice wave!”

Andy didn’t go but waited for the second. “I’m going on this one!” he yelled. Elroy acted like he didn’t hear, and dropped down the face as Andy paddled onto it on the inside.

“I’m on it!” Andy yelled.

Elroy kept riding.

Oscar, who was paddling over the lip, gave Andy the stink-eye,shouting, “Elroy’s wave, cuzão!”

Andy bellowed, “Elroy, I’m on it, fuck off!”

Elroy pulled up, but he wasn’t kicking out. He was starting one of those three-sixties, and was going to come down hard on Andy. That thick SUP board could break a bone. Instead of straightening out, though, Andy reached up and shoved the SUP’s rail, keeping it off him. Elroy toppled into the white water, and Andy streaked ahead, milking the wave to the inside bowl, where the water gurgled ominously over coral heads.

What the hell, Andy thought, and kept on going.

A boil swooshed up. As he flailing for balance, the board dug a rail. Down he went, straight on the reef. The coral bit along his left leg and side with instant stings. Gingerly spread-eagled on the surface, he pulled in the board and finger-tip paddled it to deeper water, where he inspected his wounds. The reef rash along his leg and ribs bled in a dozen places. His surf session over, he headed for the waiting runabout to take him to shore.


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